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From Jayavarman II to Suryavarman I

BakongNortheast view of the Bakong Temple (9th Century) after it was revamped. The central tower was successfully restored through a process called “anastylosis.” The only missing part was the double layer eight-petaled lotus flower located above the extremity of the ornament.
Bakong (9th century)
Size of print: 23,5 x 17,5 cm
Date photograph taken: 1941

King Jayavarman II (r. 802 to ca. 835) was the key figure at the outset of the "Angkor" era. He was born ca. 750 A.D. into a Khmer family living in the state of Java—the probable name of a small kingdom on the Malay Peninsula. He made his way to Cambodia by traveling up the Mekong River, conquering first the Prey Veng region, followed by Sambor. It appears that he moved forward as far as Vat Phu (Laos), before settling in the Angkor region at Hariharālaya (Roluos group), which was a small kingdom with an already long history. His son Jayavarman III was his successor in this same capital city.

Although the reign of King Indravarman I (877 to ca. 889) lasted just a little over ten years, he was an outstanding builder. He left his mark as the restorer of the Bakong temple and undertook vast new projects, including the construction of the Lolei baray, the first of many huge water reservoirs.

His son Yaśovarman I (889-910) was a no less accomplished patron, building first a temple in the memory of his parents and grandparents in the middle of the Lolei baray. Meanwhile, he set up the first Angkor capital which included completing the Phnom Bakheng, the construction of “hermitages” (āśrama) added to the major temples of his empire that extended from Vat Phu (Laos) and Phanom Van (Thailand) in the North, as far as Kampot and Prey Veng in the South.

Yaśovarman I died in 910 and was succeeded by his son Harshavarman I, who had the temple of Baksei Chamkrong built in memory of his parents.

Baksei Chamkrong (947). Baksei Chamkrong (947). Main facade (east) of the pyramid after the removal of vegetation.
Glass plate print.
Date photograph taken: before 1949?
Photographer: Henri Marchal

Jayavarman IV (928-941) ascended to the throne of the "Khmer kings" in 928. However, he lived in his own city, Koh Ker, where he had some 40 sanctuaries built, including Cambodia’s highest pyramid, a development of the Prasat Thom temple. Such large-scale building projects indicate a considerable level of prosperity.

When Rājendravarman (944-968) moved to Angkor in 944, he was already the ruler of Bhavapura, a kingdom centering on the old capital of Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia’s hinterland. He was the builder of Pre Rup, the State temple, and of the Mebon in the middle of the Western Baray. He is considered a great administrator.

The succession of his son, under the name of Jayavarman V, was not uncontested, but his reign subsequently appears to have been peaceful.

At the end of a nine-year war of succession, Sūryavarman I took power and moved to the present site of the Angkor Thom Royal Palace, where he built the Phimeanakas pyramid temple. He seems to have been the builder of the Western Baray, measuring 8 kilometers in length by 2.2 kilometers in width, much larger that the Eastern Baray. He is also reputed to have started work on the Baphuon temple.